Following UK foreign minister David Miliband’s unequivocal refusal (EurActiv 09/11/09), the EU centre-left has now turned its attention to its remaining "shortlist" of candidates for the job of High Representative for foreign policy, to be created by the Lisbon Treaty.
Some socialists, speaking off the record to EurActiv, believe the battle is now effectively a two-horse race between Romanian MEP Adrian Severin and former Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema.
While both these candidates are believed to be strong contenders who would fulfill European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s criteria for the job, both face some obstacles.
Severin: no government backing?
In Romania, political divisions appear to be hampering Severin’s chances. The socialist MEP and former foreign minister is of a different political family to the ruling centre-right, and is not currently receiving sufficient government support for his candidacy, Romanian socialists say.
Mircea Geoana, the leader of the Romanian opposition Socialist party (PSD), has called on centre-right president Traian Basescu to endorse Severin’s candidacy, writes EurActiv Romania.
"From the consultations which have taken place [among EU leaders] so far a short list [of centre-left candidates] has been agreed, which includes Severin. But I have to say with regret that the Romanian diplomacy, the head of state and the Romanian government have not made any attempt, discreetly or publicly, to support this candidacy," Geoana said.
He appealed to the president and to the caretaker prime minister Emil Boc, as well as to the interim foreign minister Catalin Predoiu, to officially lobby for Severin obtaining the High Representative post, which he called "the number 3 job in the EU hierarchy".
The internal Romanian political context is fruther complicated by a presidential election, due on 22 November, which Basescu is widely expected to win. Early parliamentary elections are also expected due to the socialists' withdrawal from the former 'grand coalition' government in October (EurActiv 14/10/09).
D’Alema: difficulties resolved in Berlin?
Meanwhile, Massimo D’Alema has been facing a different set of obstacles. Like Severin, D’Alema is a high-profile former socialist foreign minister in a country ruled by the centre-right.
However, unlike Severin, D’Alema appears to enjoy the support of his government, with Italian media reporting in recent days that Silvio Berlusconi has thrown his weight behind his candidacy, claiming it would be a great honour for Italy.
In so doing, Berlusconi would have to sacrifice his centre-right commissioner Antonio Tajani to secure the High Rep job for Italy, as the new EU foreign minister will also be a European Commission vice-president for external relations.
In fact, D’Alema’s main opponents are from outside Italy. EU diplomats confirmed to EurActiv last week that his candidacy was frowned upon in member states from the former Eastern Bloc – mainly Poland – because of his prominent communist past. One diplomat even said that D’Alema had "no chance" as a result of Poland’s position.
However, EurActiv this morning (10 November) heard as yet unconfirmed speculation from Socialist sources in Brussels that EU leaders meeting in Berlin yesterday may have smoothed the path for D’Alema’s candidacy.
As soon as current EU presidency holder Sweden is confident that the outline of an agreement for the top jobs may be in place, an extraordinary EU summit in Brussels will be announced, where EU leaders will make a final decision on the new positions.
(EurActiv Romania contributed to this article from Bucharest).